MANILA, NOVEMBER 18, 2003  (MALAYA) As he walked into the Araneta Coliseum amid the glare of the spotlight and the stares of thousands of spectators, Kerby Raymundo felt a chill inside him. A chill that crept all over his body as he struggled to hit his shots early.

"Pagpasok ko sa coliseum, parang nasindak ako sa dami ng tao. Hindi ako sanay. Pag naglalaro kasi kami, konting tao lang eh," joked the Purefoods frontliner.

As he hit one basket after the other, the doubts were slowly cast out of his mind.

"Basta inisip ko lang 'yung hirap na dinaanan ko para paghandaan ito," said the 6-foot-6 Purefoods center.

His teammates were given a break from practice the past three days but Raymundo was in the gym all that time, practicing his jump shot and defensive posture. Everything paid off.

Sunday night, he shocked Talk N Text giant Asi Taulava, an overwhelming favorite in the 6-foot-4 and above division 13-7 to win the Purefoods-Ginebra King of the Hardcourt one-on-one tournament.

"Bunga lang ito ng lahat ng hirap ko. 'Yung teammates ko, may break sa ensayo, pero ako tuloy-tuloy ang practice," he said.

Not a few thought Raymundo was waging a useless war against Taulava, regarded as the best big man in the league today.

In fact, the doubts swirled around Raymundo's head. But it was not enough to deter him. In fact, it might have pumped him even more.

"Sabi kasi nila, kakainin lang ako. Sabi ko naman, tingnan na lang natin."

Taulava actually led 7-6 early in the final and it looked like Raymundo, the former Letran star, would end up as an asterisk beside the Phone Pals' top player. But the jump shot he had worked diligently on started finding its target.

"Noon una, di ako maka-shoot. Pero nu'ng nakuha ko na 'yung rhythm, nagka-kumpiyansa na ako,' he revealed.

Playing wise basketball, he tapped the ball away from Taulava's comfort zone and surrendered a foul each time Taulava managed to get near the basket.

"Smart basketball, sabi nga nila," he said.

"Patapik-tapik lang. Sundot-sundot para laging malayo ang bola. Tapos foul 'pag nakalapit," he revealed.

The strategy and his shooting worked. Raymundo scored the last seven points of the game to win the P150,000 top prize.

Taulava went home with P50,000.

"Masaya ako, siyempre. Napatunayan ko kasi na kaya ko," he said.

Raymundo made good on an earlier prediction that, at least in his division, a pure local will reign in the one-on-one tournament.

Now, there's only one championship left to be settled. Red Bull's Willie Miller and San Miguel's Joey Mente will battle it out for the under 6-4 class.

Raymundo, though, won't bother himself with that.

He's just going to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his hard labor.

Danny Ildefonso received an outlet pass off a good defensive play by Dondon Hontiveros, streaked downcourt and scored on a slam-dunk that thundered throughout the Araneta Coliseum.

Running upcourt to resume his duties in defense, he flexed his muscles and smiled.

He's back in business.

Struggling to regain top after battling injuries this conference, Ildefonso anchored the local crew of San Miguel that ousted FedEx in the Samsung PBA Reinforced Conference quarterfinals last Sunday.

His heroics helped give San Miguel the first semifinals berth in the tournament, a big surprise for a team that has struggled to keep a complete lineup throughout the season.

Ildefonso's heroics gave him Player of the Week honors from Nov. 10-16.

"We're glad to be in the semifinals. I just hope we stay healthy the rest of the way," said San Miguel coach Jong Uichico.

Healthy is how Ildefonso has been the past days. As a result, the Beermen have made it to the Final Four, gaining a chance to advance to the finals for the first time since the 2001 Governors Cup.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved